Night: Congress &
MARGARET WARNER: And let's turn our attention to health care and to Senator Reid for the Democrats. Senator, one of the big issues for health care in this campaign, presidential and congressional, is prescription drug coverage for seniors. Despite this barrage of ads that viewers at home are seeing, they tell us, tell pollsters they are confused about the competing plans. Boil it down to its essence. What is the most important difference between the Democrats approach and the Republican approach?
SENATOR REID: They would put forward a plan that helps the insurance companies. We put forward a plan that helps the American people. It sounds simplistic but it is true. The same applies to other areas of our health care delivery. We have 45 million people that don't have health insurance in America.
MARGARET WARNER: back to prescription drugs. What is the essence of the Democrats plan and why is it better? How does it work?
SENATOR REID: The Democratic plan works by giving people the ability to get their help from Medicare. It's part of the Medicare plan. What the Republicans want to do is put it so that insurance companies would dictate what would happen. It is so bad even though they try to throw this off to the insurance companies, that the insurance companies come back and said it won't work. Don't do it that way.
We simply want to enlarge Medicare to make it so people can have as a direct result of Medicare prescription drug benefits. The reason that's important; When Medicare came into being in 1965, there really wasn't a need for prescription drug benefits. But today after 35 years, prescription drugs have become very important. The average senior citizens get 18 prescriptions filled every year. And with the high cost of prescription drugs, it's absolutely essential that America, the greatest country in the world, with the health care plan for senior citizens would have a prescription drug benefit in Medicare. We give them one. The Republicans don't.
MARGARET WARNER: Senator Hagel, why is the Republicans approach better in your view?
SENATOR HAGEL: Well, Senator Reid hasn't represented the Republican side of this very accurately. First of all I think the American people should know that we, Democrats and Republicans, set aside over the next five years $40 billion to initiate a prescription drug plan. So that is now in our budget -- our budget authority. What the Republicans do is we set that money aside, additional money that is funded through Medicare and by the way we have about four or five different plans on the Republican side. I'm the author of one of them.
We use the private marketplace to give those seniors the options. We go after those that need it the most -- the lower income, those that don't qualify for Medicaid, middle-income. And we give them a discount prescription drug opportunity. We cut off the cap of this thing so that they are not hit with catastrophic expenses. We use the private options just like the four of us have our medical plans through the federal government. And we have discount cards. It works pretty well and we get 30 or 39% discount. So we preserve the market system with the options. We do have additional monies, considerable monies, set aside to let Medicare take care of that. We focus on those who need it the most and the middle class and we cap it so that there is not a catastrophic problem.
MARGARET WARNER: Congressman Bonior, as I understand it, two-thirds of seniors now have some kind of private drug insurance. What's wrong with the Republican approach? Why not give subsidies to the insurance companies and let seniors, the remaining one-third buy through the private market?
CONGRESSMAN BONIOR: Well, if I could-- I'll touch on that but I need to clarify one thing. It's fuzzy math that my friend Chuck has used because if you are going to do the tax cuts that they've suggested, he said they set aside 40 million for--
SENATOR HAGEL: 40 billion.
CONGRESSMAN BONIOR: For prescription drug coverage and of course J.C. talked about the money they set aside for education. But times there's little double accounting here. If you're going to do the tax cuts that they want to provide, you won't have the money for the prescription drugs. You won't have the money for the education. They're using the same pot of money for both things. But setting that aside for a second, what is wrong with their proposal is that it would not help two-thirds of those people who need prescription drug coverage. We have about a third of the people in our country who have decent coverage through union contracts or through their work site. Another third have very shaky coverage and often are getting dropped by HMO's and insurance companies today. They dropped over a million people in the last year in the HMO's from health benefits and health coverage. And then another third have nothing at all.
The problem with their proposal is that it doesn't reach anybody and the numbers of their proposal basically say that would you have to make somewhere in the neighborhood of less than $15,000 a year to be able to take advantage of any of the subsidies. Well, most of the people who are seniors make a lot more than $15,000 a year in income that they have coming in annually so it doesn't really cover a lot of people. Number two, the other problem with it, it's not guaranteed. Ours is guaranteed under Medicare. It will always be there, it's well run, it's efficient. Your doctor will be able to get you, under our proposal, Medicare prescription drugs and you'll get those filled. If you have an HMO plan and a private insurer plan which they're advocating, that HMO may drop you one month. They may not say that they'll give you the drug the doctor prescribes.
MARGARET WARNER: Congressman Watts, what guarantee is there that if you go to the subsidy to private insurance that private insurance will cover everybody and not drop them?
CONGRESSMAN WATTS: The principles that should drive this health care debate concerning our seniors is a prescription drug benefit that's universal, that means you can get it in the rural parts of the fourth district of Oklahoma or in the urban parts of the fourth district of Oklahoma. It's cost efficient and seniors will have choice. David Bonior, Harry Reid, Chuck Hagel and J.C. Watts, we're in a federal insurance system that we have a choice. If I don't like the system that I'm in now, I can choose a better system or I can go to another system. We have probably 15 or 20 different plans that we can choose. Under the Democrat system, if you don't like the system that you're in, tough. You're out of luck. You've got to live with it. If we, as members of congress, can have choice, why can't we give seniors choice?
CONGRESSMAN BONIOR: Can I answer that? Because I think most people in this country, seniors would prefer the choice of Medicare than the HMO's. We have HMO's right now and people are being dropped left and right all over the country. People go to their doctors to ask for a prescription. The doctors check with the HMO's and the HMO's don't deliver because they're financially in trouble.
CONGRESSMAN WATTS: They can have that choice. If they want what they have, that's fine. But if they want the choices that all of us have, why not allow them to have that choice? See that again is a policy issue. The Democrats would say Washington knows best. We know what's best for you as opposed to saying to those seniors out there that's looking for a prescription drug benefit, we're going to trust you to do what's best for you and your family.
CONGRESSMAN BONIOR: You want to trust the HMO's and we want to trust Medicare.
SENATOR REID: The reason J.C. is wrong on this, remember their plan only applies to those people who are very poor. Ours applies to everybody. Everybody is conferred under our plan.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me just... Go ahead, Senator.
SENATOR HAGEL: That's not true, Senator. The fact is...
SENATOR REID: Which plan. You can't get the Republicans to agree on your plan. Your plan isn't too bad.
SENATOR HAGEL: Thank you. I'm looking for Democratic co-sponsors for my plan.
SENATOR REID: You need them because you can't get the Republicans to agree.
SENATOR HAGEL: That's not true. Those thresholds are way up there like 100,000 income for individuals, $200,000 for couples but let me get to your question, which is a good question. What guarantee is there that the HMO's won't drop you? Very simple. Because Medicare pays for it pays. But they don't run it. That's the difference. We don't want government running our health care. It's that simple. J.C. is right. The Republicans don't want that. Hillary tried that in 1993, and that didn't go very far even with a Democrat congress, it didn't go very far. Again this is a very clear choice the American public has between the Republicans and the democrats. If you like the government running your health care, then you should vote for their plan. We don't do that.
CONGRESSMAN BONIOR: I think most people are pleased with their Medicare and would prefer that over the HMO's.
SENATOR REID: These are all things like local control. Frank Luntz scripted this Republican Congress and they have these little buzzwords. Local control. Do you want the government running your health care? These are phony. I don't know how else to say it. The fact of the matter is under our Medicare prescription drug benefit, the government is not running the program any more than they are running Medicare today. The same with education, we're not evaporating local control.
CONGRESSMAN WATTS: One comment. None of us can deny this. We are the only congress in the history of the United States that's passed a prescription drug benefit. Now the Democrats walked out when we started that debate. We're the only congress that's passed a prescription drug benefit.
CONGRESSMAN BONIOR: You haven't passed a prescription drug benefit yet.
CONGRESSMAN WATTS: We didn't pass it in the house.
CONGRESSMAN BONIOR: You haven't passed anything yet.
MARGARET WARNER: We'll have to leave it there.